Loneliness in ‘Of Mice and men’ by John Steinbeck Essay
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‘Of Mice and Men’, is a novel written by John Steinbeck in the 1930’s. It is set in Salinas California and shows us what life was like for migrant workers at this time. The book was set in the time of the American depression caused by the Wall Street Crash. In 1929 Steinbeck himself had taken on unskilled jobs to support himself for 7 years from 1919. South Clara in Northern California was where Steinbeck worked as a farm laborer. It is from there that the scenery, setting and experiences of Steinbeck in Northern California have been etched into the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’.
The book describes how lonely life can be. There are three different kinds of loneliness these include: isolation, solitude and abandonment. George and Lennie are different from the other characters in the novel as they have each other to look after them ‘ain’t many guys travel around together’. They have been companions from childhood and George has given and oath to Aunt Clara that he will look after Lennie.
George and Lennie both share the same dream to own a piece of land that no-one will take away from them. They each dedicate a sum of their wages towards the dream.
The characters in this novel are all envious to some extent of the special friendship shared by George and Lennie because they do not have that in their life. All the characters are extremely lonely and unhappy with their lives (except Slim, who is the only character that seems to be confident and happy with his life), and none of them can escape this unhappiness. Economic and social forces control them, and free will seems non-existent.
“Guys like us, that live on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.” George means that if not for each other, then he and Lennie would be all alone, with no friends, like all the men like them, who are migrant workers moving from ranch to ranch without making any friends, and living a lonely life. George and his simple-minded friend Lennie dream, of a place to call their own. The Dream represents a sense of freedom to George and Lennie as they will be their own bosses and can do as they please.
Also the achieving of the dream will mean they will not have to travel and have a house which they can really call home. They will not have to wear their uniforms and will have more possessions than a migrant worker. George and Lennie are very different, George is a smart and composed man, who seems to need mental stimulation from a companion, which he cannot have in his relationship with Lennie. Even though they have each other, they are still both lonely at a certain level, even if one does not clearly understand the other. The important thing is human contact and being there together.
Somebody who loses his best companion is Candy. Candy is the oldest person on the ranch. We can tell this when he mentions they are going to fire him “They’ll can me purty soon” also by the boring jobs which he undertakes like sweeping the bunk house, as he only has one hand, he is a liability. He is a very friendly person and knows the rules of the ranch, we see this when he says ‘a guy on a ranch don’t never listen nor he don’t ast no questions.’ His life long companion presumably a sheep dog which he had since it was a pup, was shot by Carlson, who was very persistent to take the dog’s life as he did not like the way it smelled “I don’t know nothing that stinks so bad as an old dog’. Although pleading with Carlson “I had him so long. Had him since he was a pup, I herded sheep with him” the only choice Candy was offered was if he would want to shoot the dog himself which he replied “No I couldn’t. I had ‘im too long.”
Finally Candy had to let his companion go. The dog which was Candy’s comfort and enjoyment was now dead. As the gunshot went off in the distance every head in the bunk house turned towards Candy to see the old man’s reaction. For a moment he continued to stare at the ceiling maybe remembering the happy memories he and his companion shared. Then he rolled slowly over and faced the wall and lay silent the same action a dog would do when going to sleep.
All was not lost, overhearing George and Lennie’s dream he wanted to share it. He told George and Lennie about what they did to his dog that night maybe to try and win some compassion. “You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn’t no good to himself or nobody else. When they can me here I wish’t somebody’d shoot me”. This shows Candy is nearing the end of his life at the farm. Being part of George and Lennie’s dream comforts Candy and would be an ideal way to spend the rest of his life free from worries. George and Lennie accepted him into their dream partly due to the large sum of money which he had to contribute towards the dream. The dream was now becoming a reality.
Crooks like Candy is an outcast because the society in which he resides is racist towards black people. With a back injury that gives Crooks his nickname he is more permanent than the other men, we can see this with the possessions he has which include ‘several pairs of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a big alarm clock and a single barrelled shot-gun’. Being alone has made Crooks very unsure about himself and bitter”A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t matter no difference who the guy is, longs he with you. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an he gets sick” this was Crook’s way of establishing a personal connection to Lennie. Like Lennie, Crooks has a ‘relationship’ with loneliness. Crooks is rejected from every group of people and cannot socially interact with others, just like Lennie who can’t socially interact properly because of his mental-disability.
“Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m Black. They say I stink. Well I tell you, you all stink to me!” Crooks loneliness results from rejection; others treat him unjust because he is different from them given that he is black. Crooks isn’t allowed to participate in daily events with white people such as card games. He is treated unfairly and therefore acts the same way toward the white people who have offended him. In an effort to communicate with the outside world in my opinion Crooks reads books ‘there were battered magazines and a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk’ this shows they were well read, maybe even more than once.
Crooks is fascinated by the strength of the friendship of Lennie and George, especially how close they are. Crooks said, “Well, s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back. What’ll you do then?” Crooks asks these questions because he was curious and envious, about the friendship of Lennie and George, noticing that Lennie is retarded, he takes advantage of this situation to make him feel better and ease the pain of having others reject him. He wants the people to feel the way that he did when he was lonely, having no one.
He is striving to achieve sympathy and understanding from others. Crooks would work for nothing if it meant communicating with others. He even offers his services to Candy to work on their “dream ranch” to join in on the friendship and dream shared by Lennie and George, in order to leave behind him his lonely life.
Curley’s Wife’s loneliness is due to her husband. Even though Curley’s wife is mentioned frequently, nobody asks what her name is. Nobody wants to talk her because people are afraid of Curley; he is jealous and would start a fight with anyone who tried approaching her also due to the fact that Curley is the boss’s son and anyone who tried to do something could loose their job. She does not like Curley, and purely married him to spite her mother we can see this when she says ‘I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella’. Furthermore he doesn’t talk to her at all, and there’s no one in her life with whom she can share her feelings, and longs for companionship. Candy influences views about Curley’s wife in George by telling him ‘Curley’s married… a tart’. She pretends to look for her husband when she really wants to have a conversation with the men in the ranch as she is lonely.
Curley treats his wife like a trophy insisting that she should spend all her time in the house. Curley’s wife asks the rhetorical question, ‘think I like to stick in that house alla time?’ showing her unhappiness. Curley does not care about his wife as he leaves her behind whenever he goes out and visits ‘cat houses’ although he is married.
Curley’s wife talks to Lennie in chapter five as she knows she can share her secrets and worries without Lennie telling anyone else, due to his mental age. She also indicates she is going to run away as she talks in a hurry. Curley’s wife is very vigilant in the way she knows how Curley’s hand was broken also in the way she finds the dead pup in the barn. Curley’s wife tells Lennie about the chances she had of being an actress and blames her misfortune on her mother. She shows that marrying Curley was her last chance to get away from home. Maybe she was making up stories about her past as she looked closely to see if she was impressing Lennie. Curley’s wife is a threat to Crooks as she threatens him with death by hanging if he stands up to her. In those days if a coloured man was accused of something there would be no trial.
Curley’s wife is the one who ruins the dream as she let Lennie touch her hair and then resisted. She ended up getting killed which meant that Lennie would have to be killed as he committed murder. Her death could be thought of as a misfortune, but as a positive thing as well because it ended her suffering; being the only woman in the ranch and having married a man like Curley she was inevitably destined for loneliness. But now that she is dead, she will not have to worry about being lonely ever again. Curley’s wife’s case of loneliness was the most severe throughout the novel. She struggled in her society to find somebody that she could befriend in vain.
We can draw a similarity between Candy and Crooks; both of these characters have a physical disability (Candy has a one hand, and Crooks has a crooked back) both caused by an accident, as well as another factor Crook’s color and Candy’s old age, those factors make both of them outcasts. Because of their situation, they are both destined to loneliness, each of them deals with it in their own way: Candy has his dog for companionship and makes conversation with the other men that work on the ranch, but Crooks turns towards books
Another interesting similarity we can draw is the one between the relationship between George and Lennie, and Candy and his old dog. Both George and Candy are lonely, even though they have companionship; Candy cannot talk to his dog, and George can’t have a really serious conversation with Lennie either. Even though they have companionship, they need something deeper and more meaningful. It is also interesting to notice the similar fate of Candy’s dog and Lennie who will both be shot in the back of the head unsuspicious of what is going to happen.
The last similarity drawn is between two of the loneliest characters in the novel; Curley’s Wife and Lennie. As we’ve seen previously, Curley’s wife is the only woman in the novel, and her husband forbids her to talk to other men, and because of his jealousy, doesn’t let other men approach her or else he picks a fight with them. George also gives orders to Lennie and strictly forbids him several times “Don’t even take a look at that bitch. I don’t care what she says and what she does…you leave her be” “well, you keep away from her”, they aren’t allowed to talk to each other, that’s what makes the fatal scene in the barn so tragic; Curley’s wife wanted to talk to someone so bad, that it drove her to her death.
One of the most important lessons we learn in Of Mice and Men is that friendship and human interaction are two very valuable things in life, and that having them is as much as a right as it is a privilege. We must treasure these two things as it keeps us away from loneliness which is one of the worst things a person can suffer from highlighted by the characters in the book.